The Challenge of Miniature Bonsai Trees

Of all the sizes, miniature bonsai are among the most challenging to create. And in many ways, they are the most difficult to keep alive.

A miniature bonsai from Lam Ngoc Vinh

(Bonsai are classified by style, species and even by size.)  There are two basic Japanese categories of small bonsai:

1.  Shohin (which means “a small thing” ) – are 8 inches and under (20 cm)
2.  Mame (pronounced ma-may) are often called “bean-size”. They are 4 inches or less (10 cm) in height.

Although these are the most common name and size guidelines, some teachers vary the heights slightly.

When these small trees are photographed alone, they often appear to be much larger than they are.

At first glance, one may think this small juniper, exhibited at a British shohin exhibit, was tall.

Perhaps three feet ? (91 cm.)
(Actually it’s only 20 cm. tall, under 8 inches.)

The bonsai pictures on this page are all either mame or shohin and will show the many design aspects possible with these little trees.

Metric Conversion

How to Start Miniature Bonsai

There’s more to creating miniature trees than putting a small plant in a little pot, they need to be styled.

When using flowering or fruiting plants, it is important to consider the size of the flower and/or fruit.

In general they are started like any other bonsai … cuttings, seed and air layers.   They can also be started by pruning existing large plants to a small size.

On occasion, you may find a small stunted tree in the wild (yamadori) that qualifies as a potential subject.

Derek Oakley, lives in hot, dry Western Australia and is 27 years into bonsai.  “Shohin are among my favorites … now that I’m getting older and wiser!”

To create this small bonsai Derek took a cutting from one of his elm trees.

Five years later, he has this delightful mame bonsai.

Two Famous Shohin Bonsai Artists

A Collection of Suthin’s Bonsai

There are many fine bonsai artists throughout the world. One of my personal favorite talents in the United States is Suthin Sukosolvisit.

I met Suthin, many years ago, while he still operated his Royal Bonsai Garden nursery in Stoughton, Massachusetts.  I enjoyed seeing all of his trees but was especially enchanted with the smallest.

Shohin Ficus by Suthin Sukosolvisit

I found this willow leaf fig (above) to be stunning. When small trees are pictured with an object to show the scale, the appearance totally changes.\

Because of the degree of difficulty, miniature bonsai is an intense study and not generally recommended for beginners.

Well known Danish bonsai artist Morten Albek maintains a gallery of his miniature bonsai.
(It includes this amazing tiny maple.)

Where to Go From Here

See a special method of how to care for these amazing small plants.

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